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What are the signs of dementia?

Written by Emily Shearer

As we age, it is all too common to think that we are beginning to suffer from dementia.  Please be assured that small memory lapses are not signs of dementia.  What are the symptoms? Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of neurodegenerative brain syndromes that affect memory, thinking, behavior and emotion.

Every person will experience dementia in a unique way, and symptoms can vary among different types of dementia. However, there are general similarities between and within types of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50-75% of all cases. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia. Together, Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia make up over 90% of all dementias.

The most common signs of dementia are memory loss and the loss of ability to carry out practical skills, which can lead to withdrawal from work or social activities. If you suspect these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, speak to your doctor about the possibility of a dementia assessment.

The most common early symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss: Memory loss, especially short-term memory loss, is the most common early symptom of dementia.
    • Example: A person with dementia may forget a conversation she had with her friend yesterday, as well as the time and place of the conversation.
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks: People with dementia may forget how to do tasks that are normally so familiar we do them mindlessly.
    • Example: A person with dementia may forget how to prepare his breakfast, though he has done this every day for years in the past.
  • Difficulty with language: People with dementia sometimes forget simple words or substitute words in the wrong way.
  • Problems keeping track of things: A person with dementia may have trouble with usual tasks, such as bill paying, or putting things in their correct place.
    • Example: A person with dementia may place her keys in an unusual location, such as the fridge, rather than in their normal place near her bedside.
  • Changes in mood, behavior or personality: People with dementia can show differences in mood and personality, including rapid mood swings, increased suspicion, irritability or anxiety. A person with dementia may also experience less emotion than usual.
    • Example: A person with dementia has trouble remembering where he put his glasses, resulting in more agitation and frustration than usual.
  • Disorientation to time and place: Disorientation to time and place is sometimes a symptom of dementia. People with dementia may become lost in familiar places or confuse night and day.
    • Example: A person with dementia may forget the way home from work.
  • Poor judgment: A person with dementia may exhibit instances of poor judgment.
    • A person with dementia may dress in many layers even though it is warm out.
  • Decreased initiative: People with dementia may lose the motivation to perform day-to-day activities, perform hobbies, or engage in social activities.
    • Example: A person with dementia who normally loves to paint may express apathy towards beginning a new painting project.

There are several benefits to early diagnosis of dementia, which you can read about here. Over time, symptoms worsen, resulting in the progressive loss of ability to carry out day-to-day activities. If someone you know has dementia, here are some tips to help make sure they are safe at home.


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